Politics

Police: Donald Trump Supporters Grope, Pepper Spray 15-Year-Old Girl At Wisconsin Rally

CREDIT: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Protesters argue with a supporter outside the Holiday Inn Express during protest Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's appearance scheduled Tuesday at the adjoining conference center Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Janesville, Wis.

Police in Janesville, Wisconsin are searching for two men who attended Donald Trump’s raucous town hall Tuesday night in the small post-industrial town: one accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl who was protesting Trump, and another man who pepper sprayed the 15-year-old and a 19-year-old woman. Both women were taken to local hospitals.


According to the police report, a male in the crowd groped the 15-year-old girl. When she pushed him away, another person in the crowd sprayed her.

In a video of the protest, the young woman holds up a sign reading, “Damn, Donald, back at it again with the white supremacy.” An angry crowd of older Trump supporters surrounds her, screaming, “All lives matter.”

In another video, the young woman’s friends are holding her back as she angrily confronts the man she claims groped her. She hits him, and instantly recoils from having her eyes hit with pepper spray at point-blank range. Police told local reporters that the young woman could also face charges for hitting the man.

After the young woman was blinded by the spray, Trump supporters cheered, and one man wearing Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” shouted at her, “You goddamn communist n****r-lover, get out of here.”

Over 350 police officers were at the rally Tuesday, and their report said of their efforts to keep the peace: “For the most part, we were successful.” Yet physical clashes may not have happened had Trump’s campaign not issued tickets to five times the number of people that could fit in the Janesville Holiday Inn where his event was held, and had police not decided to put the overflow crowd of supporters in the same fenced-in “free speech zone” that also held hundreds of protesters.

Louryn Strampe, who grew up in and works in Beloit, Wisconsin close to Janesville, described the scene to ThinkProgress in a phone interview.

“There were so many protesters from all different backgrounds,” she said. “Muslims, gay couples, folks with Black Lives Matter, students. That wasn’t the case on the Trump supporters side, which was basically just middle-aged white people.” Strampe, who is 22 years old, left before the pepper spraying incident, and said “everything was really civil” from what she saw.

“One man came up to us and asked, ‘So you just want to let Muslims into the country?’ and when we all said ‘Yes we do,’ he just walked away. Another man decked out in full Trump garb was walking around and offered me a Hershey’s Kiss. Another man was walking around waving a huge Confederate flag, which is ridiculous because we’re in Wisconsin. It’s not like we have southern roots. But I guess that’s what Trump’s rhetoric allows for — people feel more justified in their hatred. It’s sad to see.”

Other protesters told ThinkProgress they feared Donald Trump supporters would be incited to physical violence by past comments from their candidate, who has suggested protesters be punched in the face and said he was considering paying the legal fees of a supporter who punched a protester and was later charged with assault. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who supports Trump, has also publicly suggested that protesters should be “hit first and hit hard.”

Janesville Police additionally reported that they had to turn away two people last night who had concealed weapons, and two others who were openly carrying firearms. Another Trump supporter abandoned his vehicle in the middle of the street, causing police concern about explosives, but it turned out “they had left the vehicle in the street to get food.”

Strampe told ThinkProgress she was surprised to see thousands of people from her home region turn out to support Trump, but can understand why many there may be drawn to his campaign.

“Janesville lost a ton of jobs when the GM plan closed, and they lost their collective bargaining rights because of [Wisconsin Governor] Scott Walker,” she said. “So they’re a very afraid community. Then they see Trump saying he’s going to bring back jobs and stop foreign countries from taking them, so I see how it might resonate.”

UPDATE MAR 30, 2016 10:25 AM

Janesville Police announced on Thursday that they were pursuing disorderly conduct charges against the young woman who was sprayed. They are still searching for the man who sprayed her.

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